If you’ve been on a New York City subway post-9/11, chances are you are familiar with the following imperative that appears on trains and in stations all over the city: “IF YOU SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING.”  The slogan is part of a public safety campaign by the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA).

What you may not have known is that the slogan has been registered as a trademark. The registration certificate recites the following goods/services: “Promoting public awareness of public safety and security issues.”

Ron Coleman has a nice post this week (and he’s actually been covering this one for a while now).  The New York Times also ran a story this week that offers a detailed history of the birth of the slogan for those interested in its origin.

So why would the MTA want to have a registered trademark?  From the Times, with Ron’s trademark lawyer/grammarian edits in brackets (Ron, you beat me to it!):

“Since obtaining the trademark [registration] in 2007, the authority has granted permission to use the phrase in public awareness campaigns to 54 organizations in the United States and overseas, like [sic] Amtrak, the Chicago Transit Authority, the emergency management office at Stony Brook University and three states in Australia.

The authority has not charged for such uses of the slogan. Some requests have been rejected, including one from a university that wanted to use it to address a series of dormitory burglaries.”

So if it’s not about licensing revenues, perhaps it’s about upholding the “integrity” of the slogan.  This raises two distinct questions: (1) With respect to granting licenses, I am curious as to how the MTA determines where to “draw the line” in terms of who gets permission.  (2) What about trademark dilution?  If the mark is as famous as everyone is saying, what, if anything, will the MTA do about potential dilution (whether by blurring or tarnishment)?  For example, what about this similar use, which is arguably a parody?

UPDATE :   Here’s an update in the parody/social commentary vein, and this is the first and probably the only time I will have an opportunity to say this on my blog:  actor Rick Moranis has just published a poem that’s relevent to this topic.   Don’t believe me?  Check out yesterday’s Times.

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